When you start thinking about selling your home, you also start thinking about getting the best price possible for it. Making it look good will attract buyers and increase its value. That does not necessarily mean it will increase your home's selling price. Nor does it mean you'll get back all the money you invested. The type of project that will give you the best return depends on how close you are to selling, as well as the starting value of your house.

Major improvements in a $100,000 home won't give you the same results as a similar project in a $500,000 home, and in either case you'll likely get back much less if you sell immediately than if you wait. Also, upgrades in an older home are more valuable than upgrades in an already modern one. Finally, some improvements don't increase value much, but they do prevent decreases in value and/or they encourage buyers to take a look.

Fix-It and Short-Term Projects for Increasing Property Value

If you are almost ready to put your home on the market, cosmetic improvements are your best bet. A house that looks clean and well maintained will attract more buyers and usually go for a higher price than one that looks lived-in. And it doesn't take much living to make even a new home look shabby. Repair anything that's broken or doesn't work right, including:

  • Broken windows
  • Doors that stick or don't close right
  • Broken air-conditioning
  • Light fixtures
  • Plumbing
  • Fencing
  • Cracked concrete
  • Reseal the driveway
  • Replace missing or damaged roof shingles

If your roof is nearing the end of its life, you may need to replace it. This is one of those projects that may not add value but will make the home easier to sell. If you're selling soon, but not necessarily right away, evaluate your home as if you were a potential buyer. Fix any issues that would stop you from looking at or buying it. The longer a house stays on the market, the less you'll end up getting for it.

  • Redo the landscaping: A poorly maintained yard, or half-dead trees and bushes may cause buyers to give your home a pass without looking closer.

  • Make the building exterior inviting: Clean and/or repaint siding, paint the trim or front porch.

  • Rethink your flooring: Remove old, stained carpeting. If you have hardwood flooring underneath, refinish instead of recovering it.

  • Paint the walls: Even though new owners will probably repaint, you can make tired rooms look fresh with a coat of white paint. Also, covering your unique color choices prevents buyers from being distracted by them.

  • Make minor upgrades: If they bring your home into line with similar ones in the neighborhood, they will help you get a good price. Avoid major upgrades unless rooms are dated, like for example, a 1970s avocado-green kitchen. Also, if you have an older home with popcorn ceilings or walls, having it professionally removed can improve salability.

Long-Term Projects for Increasing Property Value

If you're looking ahead to selling someday but want to make improvements now that you can enjoy for a few years, some big projects can give you a good return on investment.

According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, kitchens and baths provide the best return, often as much as 75% to 80% of what you spend, because they are functional rooms that get a lot of use. Americans love space, so additions can increase property values significantly. Keep in mind that you do want to keep your home's overall size in line with the rest of the neighborhood. If you don't want to add rooms, try adding a wood deck.

In some areas, you can recoup as much as 90% of your investment. The popularity of green home improvements keeps rising. Many people are willing to pay more for a home with these features, because they know they'll make up the cost with lower utility bills. As an extra bonus, you may qualify for tax deductions on certain energy-saving features, and you get the benefit of those lower energy bills while you own the home. Finally, keep up with maintenance projects on your home. This is the best way to prevent deterioration that can decrease property values.